Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in Africa: From unified voices to unified actions

By Abiodun Dominic Odunuga - 2 November 2015 at 7:36 pm
A boy plays with a rubber tyre on a hill overlooking the city of Johannesburg, South Africa, Saturday Dec. 7, 2013. Today’s South Africa is no blissful paradise the nation struggles with a staggering rate of violent crime. It has the world’s highest incidence of HIV infection. And it harbors an income inequality that would befit any feudal state. Still, its people made the transition from apartheid without all-out civil war. It is not only Africa’s most successful economy, but also the 28th-largest in the world. Its democratic elections are widely believed to be fairly conducted. None of those successes was pre-ordained, and they were all given a major assist by the preternatural spirit of one man: Nelson Mandela. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)

AP Photo/Peter Dejong

Pre–SDGs (The Millennium Development Goals)
The The 8 Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) focused on addressing salient issues, which ranged from halving extreme poverty and providing access to universal primary education, to combating diseases such as HIV/AIDS and Malaria by the end of 2015. The goals did not openly single out a specific continent or country. However, by focusing on addressing the needs of the world’s poorest, Africa became the poster child for MDGs.
According to the 2015 Africa MDG report, Africa recorded some level of success in achieving the MDGs, but unfortunately, the continent continues to witness various challenges in attaining development breakthroughs. Many of these challenges stem from poor implementation systems and over-reliance on development aid. These challenges continue to cause the delay in proper development breakthroughs, which makes it difficult for Africa to achieve the MDGs.
However, there are some countries within Africa that have achieved some MDGs. For example, countries like Algeria, Egypt, São Tomé and Príncipe, Rwanda, Ghana, Zambia Tanzania and Morocco emerged as the best performing countries with respect to achieving universal primary education. In another example, the countries of Gambia, Mauritius, Bostwana, Ethopia, South Africa, Angola, Monzabique, Rwanda, Seychelles emerged as the top performing countries with respect to promoting gender equality and empowering women. These successes attained by these countries have helped Africa in the quest to achieve the MDGs. Additionally; the continent is witnessing an increase in economic growth, which in theory should improve its potential to achieve more of the development goals. Yet, in reality, the economic growth being witnessed has not yet delivered the needed social dividends. There is still a wide poverty gap because the growth being experienced is not all-inclusive. As of 2012, poverty estimates still revolves around 42.7 percent in sub-Saharan Africa according to the World Bank, which makes the continent the poorest in the world.


In between the End of the MDGs and beginning of the SDGs – Addis Action Agenda
A common ground resonates within the MDGs and the SDGS – placing poverty eradication as a top priority. To effectively close the gap associated with achieving developmental goals, Heads of States, civil society, private sector and government representatives met at the third international conference on financing for development on July 13-16, 2015. The meeting which held in Addis Ababa was to formalize modalities to facilitate financial support to achieve the SDGs. Through this conference, an ambitious target of ending global poverty by 2030 was set. The responsibility was placed on stakeholders to spell out concrete terms on how the finances would come to play a role in achieving this target. Contrary to the shortfalls that Africa experiences in fostering development with reference to foreign aid over-dependence, there seems to be a divergence in the thought process for meeting the demands of the SDGs. There is a shift of commitment and effort in the direction of foreign direct investments (FDIs) and other sources of internal mechanisms to generate funds. African nations just like other developing nations across the world have been able to send a strong message that the fight against poverty can only be effectively won with a dual approach, which places foreign aid as a secondary option. This approach does not concretely rule out the need of development aid, but it seeks to emphasize the need to direct more effort into areas such a global trade partnerships, remittances, south-south trade cooperation, intra-African trade, global financial markets, and other domestic funding resources. Many policy analysts and development practitioners have considered this shift of focus a positive outcome of the Addis Ababa Agenda.


Now the SDGs – Africa’s common ground
Replacing the MDGs are the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The seventeen (17) SDGs provide a guiding framework for the world to achieve true development that covers the social, economic and environmental pillars by 2030. Adopted at the United Nations Summit which was held in September 2015 in New York and conveyed at the high-level plenary meeting of the General Assembly, momentum has been built by various stakeholders towards its implementation. According to the African Position on SDGs, stakeholders in the continent have agreed to work on priority areas such as food security, green growth, industrialization and value addition, infrastructure and development, technological capacity, and access to quality health care. There is an inspiring leadership oversight by the African Union to ensure the SDGs are implemented at various levels. The SDGs are also very much in line with the Common African Position (CAP) on the post-2015 development agenda. The CAP is an agreement between African leaders, private sector and the civil society. Its strength lies in building productive capacity with emphasis on economic vis-à-vis environmental factors, which is a core make-up of the SDGs. At various global conferences and events, it is worthy to note that Africa is the only continent that has consistently provided some level of common positions. This is a laudable feat as it portrays a unified stance that the continent displays coherently on various salient development issues. To buttress this fact, Africa’s “Consensus statement” relating to the intergovernmental processes was adopted as a model and helped to drive the outcome of the Rio+20 Outcome Document “ The Future We Want”, which led to the definition of the SDGs.


Unified Voice should lead to Unified Actions
The CAP among other stance displayed by Africa shows the ability of the continent to overcome obstacles associated with development. These are successful strides and accomplishments that show that the Africa polity has a common stance on policy frameworks. The continent can look inwards to find answers to solve some of its development challenges especially those pertaining to achieving the SDGs. A model that has been successful can be adopted to meet the demands of the present day. Creativity is therefore applicable in this terrain to ensure that Africa not only learns from its failure but from her own successes too! Unified actions should be encouraged so as to drive the implementation of the development goals.
Furthermore, one must acknowledge the peculiarities of development challenges that exist within the regions in the continent. Notwithstanding, unified actions towards solving some continental challenges have been tested at regional levels which can also serve as a source of inspiration. For instance, East Africa is currently taking a collective effort to combat the effects of climate change especially in the area of drought in the region. Countries like Tazania, Ethopia and Uganda have come to terms with the reality of the need to unburden the water resources around them. Kenya, a member of the region is an inspiration to the whole continent when it comes to renewable energy. With an ambitious target to be theworld’s leading exponent of geothermal power by 2023, Kenya’s Lake Turkana Wind Project, which spans 40,000 acres of land is also expected to be commissioned by 2016. The interconnection of the Kenyan renewable energy strides to the African development context can be seen in the emerging discussion aiming at tackling the energy issue at the regional level in East Africa. One crucial meeting was the Powering East Africa that was hosted by Kenya in Nairobi earlier this year. The meeting gathered other parties in the region such as Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Ethiopia and Zambia to agree and collaborate on actions that will have more scalable impacts that can foster the energy development in East Africa. Actions and meetings like this are imperative for Africa. The continent must look inward and begin to make necessary simulations of this model of collective actions that seeks to achieve the development goals. Time is a crucial element as these goals are time-bound. While the continent lagged behind on achieving the MDGs on some fronts, fast-paced and effective implementation of the SDGs can be a reality if there is a synchronization of efforts within different levels and landscapes. The development race for the next fifteen years has begun in earnest; it’s time for Africa to re-work and replicate successful models with concrete actions.

Abiodun Dominic Odunuga

Abiodun Dominic Odunuga

Abiodun Dominic Odunuga is a development practitioner and social entrepreneur.

Abiodun has cognate field, consulting and delegation experience having worked on various projects and forums alongside organizations such as the United Nations (UN), Africa Development Bank (AfDB), and The Commonwealth on themes related to education, environment and sustainability. As a social entrepreneur, he has co-founded four different social enterprises focusing on Africa as it relates with SMEs, IT empowerment and youth development. He holds a Masters in Development Practice (MDP) degree from SciencesPo, Paris. He is passionate about sustainable development with a core concentration on Africa.

Twitter: @abiodunodunuga

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